“There is no way I can pay off my father’s debt,” I told my wife. Years earlier, when I was doing well financially, I had personally guaranteed a large loan so my father could refinance his five-acre dividable view lot overlooking Lake San Marcus and the surrounding retirement community. A few years later, based on my experience in the financial industry, I realize that the market was going to turn, and my father needed to sell this investment property or he would lose it. I found a developer who was willing to purchase the property at my father’s asking price, but when it came time to do the deal, my father said he disagreed with me and felt that the real estate market was going to go even higher. So, he refused to sell. Sure enough, soon afterward, the market crashed, and my father lost the property in foreclosure. I was in law school when the lender sued me on this personal guarantee. I was steadily making progress chipping away at the debt I had incurred in my clothing venture, but there was no way that I would ever be able to pay off this large obligation. Consequently, I convinced my wife that we needed to file bankruptcy.
This was extremely difficult for Jean, particularly because of the tragedy in her childhood. I can picture the scene in my mind’s eye. Seven-year-old Jean and her mother were in the kitchen of their small home decorating her father’s birthday cake as her younger brother and twin sister played nearby. “I can’t wait for Daddy to come home,” Jean said when they finished decorating his cake.” A knock at the door interrupted their activity. At first, she was excited, thinking that her father was home, but was surprised to see that there were two policemen at the door. The world she knew ended when the officers informed them that her father was in critical condition at the hospital. A drunk driver ran a stop sign and hit her father as he drove his motorcycle to work. He died soon after. Her dad was her hero, and now he was gone.
Unfortunately, filing bankruptcy brought back some of the sense of loss from her childhood. Before, even though we had been struggling financially, Jean was very supportive. She even helped me deal with my feelings of failure. But filing bankruptcy was like flipping a switch, and the reality of our dire circumstances came crashing down on her. She felt abandoned by her provider and became the devil’s advocate for anything I suggested. Unfortunately, I played the coward and withdrew emotionally, exacerbating her sense of betrayal. It was easy for me to withdraw because I was so busy with work and school. Looking back, it is interesting how our two vulnerabilities―her insecurity from traumatic loss and my need for validation because of childhood neglect―played off each other as our marriage became more and more dysfunctional.
Things reached a breaking point for me about a year after I became an attorney and opened up my own practice. I had won a few cases and done quite well financially. I wanted to lease a large office and sublease space to other attorneys so I could farm out work to them and be able to manage it. Jean gave her consent but was not emotionally on board, so when I leased the space, she was upset. We went out to dinner the day I leased the office. When she reacted negatively to the news, I gave up on our marriage. I teared up, feeling the pain of the loss of our relationship. I just felt that I couldn’t deal with it any longer. I felt let down because I had asked for her approval without realizing, and possibly not caring, that she really didn’t want us to make this major financial commitment, especially in light of our prior track record. I was looking for a cheerleader to congratulate me on reaching this goal and felt let down by a terrified wife staring at a large three-year financial commitment.
After emotionally giving up on our marriage, it didn’t take long for me to fall into Satan’s grasp. After a while, I was resigned to the fact that I was going to hell, but I decided I would do as much good in the world as I could along the way. I became much more attentive to Jean’s needs and feelings. Metaphorically, I realized that I had shot her in the heart with the gun I was supposed to use to protect her, and now was not the time for me to ask her to give me a blood transfusion. We sought marriage counseling, which was helpful. But the greatest benefit was going to lunch afterward and taking time off work to go to the beach or for a drive so we could talk things out and reconnect.
In the midst of this personal crisis, my wife mentioned that she felt the issue I was dealing with was part of a much bigger picture. She felt that in some way it was related to the business failures I had experienced a number of years earlier. This rang true. I knew she was right, even though there was no apparent connection.
I yearned to see this bigger picture. I turned to the Lord and was willing to do whatever He required. I placed everything on the altar and did not hold back anything. I was willing to sacrifice what I thought was a basic characteristic of my personality, being an entrepreneur. I told the Lord that if it was His will, I would become a teacher or pursue some other line of work that would facilitate me spending more time at home. I was willing to abandon my insatiable quest for financial security, which had dominated much of my life up to that point. I turned my whole heart over to the Lord and humbly asked for help.
I was then blessed with one of the greatest experiences of my life. It is best understood by visualizing the image impressed on my mind at the time. I saw a large, flat, dark body of water extending as far as I could see in every direction. This sea of darkness was not black but very dark and gloomy. The finger of the Lord came down and touched the water. Then, this sea of darkness opened up in all directions, just as a drop of oil on water spreads out quickly. I saw a bright light shining up out of the opening. As the water opened up, the light became brighter and brighter, and I felt my sins being washed away at the same time the emptiness in my life was filled.
As the light grew brighter, I could see the source of my problems and how I had hurt others close to me, particularly Jean. I could see how I had spent much of my life trying to fill emotional deficiencies created by growing up in a dysfunctional family. I could see how I had attempted to fill these emotional holes in inappropriate ways. I could see how I tried to prove my self-worth by trying to excel at everything I did.
I saw that I, not my wife, was leading our dysfunctional dance that caused our marital difficulties. I was shocked! No, this couldn’t be me. But it was. I could hardly stand to look at myself. I was repulsed by my past behavior, just as two magnets with the same polarity are repulsed by each other when shoved together. The Lord propelled me in the opposite but correct direction by forcing me to see my faults and empowering me with hope. I knew everything would work out.
I no longer felt the emptiness that had compelled so much of my past behavior. The Lord’s love filled the hole. The light seemed synonymous with the emotion of hope and power that grew as it became brighter. I could see more clearly until everything was bright, and I was completely filled with joy, hope, and love. What glory! What light! What love! I can’t describe it.
I felt as if I was born again. I was freed from all that held me bound. I was no longer held captive by the emotional drag that pulled me down. I no longer had any desire to sin. After feeling the Lord’s love and acceptance, everything that bothered me was no longer important. I felt free to love others without fear of rejection. I no longer felt driven to prove myself. My anxiety dissipated, and I felt at peace. I felt healed from all my past. I was free.
I am pleased to report that our marriage has grown stronger and more satisfying over the years, and we are closer than we ever could have imagined before. There is hope for marriages that are broken if both parties invite God in so he can heal them and the marriage. I now realize that the sea of darkness represented my heart, and when He touched it and I opened it up to Him, He filled my soul with light and love.
I know the Lord is there, waiting to fill our lives with His infinite love, if we will simply open our hearts to Him.